DIY Vanilla Extract
When you get a waft of vanilla extract, you know something good is about to happen in the kitchen. From cookies and cakes to frostings and sauces, vanilla extract is the ultimate baking ingredient. Why? Just as salt enhances the flavor of a savory dish, vanilla extract helps to bring out the other flavors in a sweet dish. At the same time, it can add a subtle hint of vanilla flavor to each bite. Every baker (from novice to expert) has a bottle of vanilla extract on hand. Savory Spice Shop offers several styles of vanilla extract for your baking needs. But if you’re a crafty DIYer, it’s so easy to make your own. Simply pick one of our different styles of vanilla beans and steep them in a spirit of your choice for a few weeks. It’s that simple. And it makes a great homemade gift for your favorite baker.
When you get a waft of vanilla extract, you know something good is about to happen in the kitchen. From cookies and cakes to frostings and sauces, vanilla extract is the ultimate baking ingredient. Why? Just as salt enhances the flavor of a savory dish, vanilla extract helps to bring out the other flavors in a sweet dish. At the same time, it can add a subtle hint of vanilla flavor to each bite. Every baker (from novice to expert) has a bottle of vanilla extract on hand. Savory Spice Shop offers several styles of vanilla for your baking needs. But if you’re a crafty DIYer, it’s so easy to make your own. Simply pick up some vanilla beans and steep them in a spirit of your choice for a few weeks. It’s that simple. And it makes a great homemade gift for your favorite baker.
Here’s our DIY method to make one bottle of vanilla extract:
1) Choose a vanilla bean.
You’ll need 5 to 7 whole vanilla beans.
Which vanilla flavor are you in the mood for? Choose just one or opt to layer flavors by using a combination of different beans.
Madagascar “Bourbon” Vanilla Beans: In this case, “Bourbon” has nothing to do with alcohol; it is actually a name for the islands from which the vanilla beans originate. The well-known flavor can be described as rich and creamy, with tobacco or subtle licorice undertones and sweet prune-like notes. The strong flavor of Madagascar vanilla extract is great for baked goods like cookies and cakes or other desserts like ice creams.
Mexican: Native to the Americas, Mexican vanilla beans could be called “the original.” While similar in flavor to the well-known Madagascar, Mexican vanilla beans differ slightly due to their varied growing regions. Mexican vanilla is mellow and has a smooth, mild flavor with baking spice and slightly woody undertones. Mexican vanilla extract is also very good for baking or in icings. The spice notes also make it good for savory applications like dressings and marinades.
2) Choose an alcohol base.
You’ll need 1½ cups (12 oz.) of a spirit of your choice.
What is your favorite spirit, or what do you have sitting around in the liquor cabinet?
To create the extract, the vanilla beans will soak in about 12 ounces of your spirit of choice for at least a month. The spirit literally extracts the vanilla flavor from the beans and eventually turns into the dark brown color you’re used to seeing in a packaged vanilla extract. Vodka is the most neutral spirit to use in making an extract, as it has very little flavor itself. We like to experiment with other spirits like bourbon or dark rum. These barrel-aged spirits add flavor accents like caramel, wood, oak, and spice, depending on how the spirit was distilled and processed. All of these factors will affect your vanilla extract, imparting a uniquely homemade flavor. Try infusing different vanilla beans into different alcohol bases. We like Tahitian vanilla beans in vodka, Madagascar vanilla beans in bourbon, and Mexican vanilla beans in dark rum.
3) Find a suitable container.
You’ll need a 1½-cup (or 12 oz.) container.
You’ll need a sealable glass container for this project. It should be large enough to hold at least 1½ cups of liquid and be tall enough for the vanilla beans to comfortably rest in the bottle. If you’re giving your homemade vanilla extract away as a gift, you’ll want the bottle to be cute of course.
4) Slice the vanilla beans.
You’ll need a cutting board and a sharp paring knife.
Split each vanilla bean by slicing lengthwise down the center, leaving the tips intact. Doing this exposes the seeds inside the bean to the alcohol base and will help infuse even more vanilla flavor into your extract. It also looks pretty cool to have those distinctive dark flecks of vanilla bean seeds in the extract, especially when you use your extract in whipped cream or frosting.
5) Cover the vanilla beans with the spirit.
You’ll need a funnel.
Place the 5 to 7 split vanilla beans in your container. (It’s okay to bend them slightly to get them to fit; you can even slice them in half if your container is too short to comfortably fit the beans.) Pour in 1½ cups of the spirits, or enough that the alcohol completely covers the vanilla beans. (We find a funnel to be a useful tool to transfer the spirit into your extract container.) Seal the container tightly.
6) Set aside for a month.
You'll need a cool, dark storage spot.
Here’s the easiest part: simply walk away! Set the jar in your pantry so it’s not exposed to extreme cold or heat. Once a week or so, gently shake the jar to distribute the vanilla bean seeds into the spirit base.
7) Strain (or not) and give away or use.
You'll need a fine sieve (if straining) and some cute labels.
The vanilla bean and spirit concoction will become usable extract after one month. You can remove the vanilla beans and strain the extract through a fine sieve into a new container; this will also remove some of the vanilla seeds from the extract. Or you can leave the vanilla beans in the container to steep indefinitely. The alcohol will preserve the beans and the extract flavor will continue to get stronger and stronger. With this approach, you can continue to “top off” your extract with additional spirit as you use it – though, eventually, you’ll want to start fresh! Don't forget to label your extract with which vanilla beans and spirit you used.
8) Recipes using your homemade vanilla extract.
If you’re looking for some new recipes in which to feature your homemade vanilla, look no further!
- Almost Oh-ree-oh!: Those sandwich cookie favorites get a homemade spin with vanilla extract and decadent black onyx and Dutch cocoa powder.
- Biscotti de Regina (Italian Sesame Seed Cookies): These crumbly butter cookies are perfect for an afternoon coffee or tea break.
- Texas Sheet Cake: They say that everything’s bigger in Texas. This big on flavor cake proves that bigger is sometimes better!
- Chinese Five Spice Carrot Cupcakes: The aromatic spices in this recipe update a classic carrot cake.
- Ghost Pepper Salted Guinness Pretzels: This treat proves that a little bit of sweetness is a perfect complement to spicy!
- Sweet & Spicy Pecans: Candied nuts are a great snack item. These are spiced with flavors of vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger.
Don't worry if you're not yet ready to make your own vanilla. For more information on commercially available vanilla extract, read Behind the Seasoning: Vanilla Extract Uses & Recipes article.